PERFORMANCE anxiety is increasingly prevalent amongst our youngsters sitting examinations, whether internal or external. The unrealistic expectations from parents are seriously affecting our student population and only lead to negative and undesired results. I personally have seen too many students struggling with high stress levels, fear, and anxiety. Students are undergoing constant stress to achieve the ‘right grades’ in order to attend the ‘right schools’. Additionally, many parents want their children to be the star of the class, at the top of the school, and to attain high status. Parents have gone overboard in their relentless quest for top grades, leaving their children in terror.
The parental push for academic excellence neglects the importance of other essential aspects of child development, such as exercise, social skills, compassion, and leisure. Understandably, the future of a child is one of the biggest concerns to a parent. We all want our children to be successful and to live a better life than we had. However, despite good intentions, raising the bar too high can actually lead to mental issues in our children, which no one wants.
Some amount of pressure from parents is valuable and necessary in ensuring that children remain focused and goal-oriented. It steers them on the right path and reinforces the significance of education. However, there is a fine line between ‘good’ pressure and ‘bad’ pressure. This is where I find that many parents fail. Remember that unrealistically high aspirations may actually hinder academic performance. It is critical that realistic expectations are developed.
I have students who are so terrified of failing to please their parents, that it hinders their actual performance in exams. Students pick up on the high anxiety displayed by parents and they then become flustered, nervous, and stressed out.
Why should children be sleep-deprived, worried, and anxious because of parental pressure to excel in exams? An examination does not define who your child is. They will not always score well and if your reaction as a parent is negative, this becomes dangerous. It leads to low self-esteem and poor self-image in your child. This undue pressure is the root cause of childhood depression which may lead to behavioural problems, self-harm, and suicide. A child’s mind is fragile and not yet mature. It is your responsibility as a parent to love and support your child unconditionally. Your child may actually have strengths in other areas which could provide a comfortable future lifestyle during adulthood. Do not stifle your child’s innate creativity and imagination.
I encourage all parents to do some introspection. Review how you have been interacting with your child. Are you encouraging and motivating or are you criticising, quarreling, and rebuking? Do you recognise the many irrational forces that may be driving you to excessively push your children academically? Do you believe that your children’s achievement is a reflection of your parenting abilities? There are legions of parents who live their lives through their children. It is instinctual but something we must work on to change. Our children are not extensions of us. They are their own inimitable individuals. Let us work on being well-balanced parents to our unique, one-of a kind children.
As parents, you are the key characters in your child’s life. Not all children are alike, and not all children dream of being a doctor, engineer, or lawyer. To be a good parent requires you nurturing and accepting the child God has gifted you. The high cost associated with unrealistic high expectations is too great a price to pay for an exam.
I have students who closet their feelings of anxiety, anger, sadness and fear from their parents. Many are furious with their parents. They are extremely angry. They just want a break. They no longer want to be academic performance machines. They want to be children/adolescents and have a balanced life. I would like to encourage parents to ease off the pressure and instead find ways to help your child remain calm and relaxed. Personally, I would take my children for walks and drives. I would even watch a bit of television with them to shift their focus away from their approaching examinations. Do something fun with your children. Go for ice cream or go watch a movie. Their lives cannot revolve solely around an exam.
I am a firm believer in “everything in moderation”. Change your conversations with your children. Your interactions with your children should not be consumed by achievement talk. Instead, be their source of refuge, support, and comfort.
I conclude by reminding parents that it is entirely possible for children to become high achievers and at the same time live a life in balance; living full, gratifying, and moral lives.
Dr Karla Hylton is the Founder and CEO of Your Empowerment Solutions (YES) Institute, offering a host of workshops and science tutoring services. She is the author of Yes! You Can Help Your Child Achieve Academic Success and Complete Chemistry for Caribbean High Schools. Reach her at (876) 564-1347, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.yes-institute.com, www.khylton.com.